Monsoon Wedding and Seven Short Films (Blu-ray)
Directed by Mira Nair
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 114 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Hindi/English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: October 20, 2009
Review Date: October 11, 2009
Mira Nair’s ambitious slice of Punjabi life Monsoon Wedding will remind those who have seen it of the Robert Altman film A Wedding. In both, the hectic arrangements leading up to a ritzy wedding and the numerous personages which such a gathering throws together make for some compelling comedic and dramatic moments. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and it’s clear that cultural differences made no difference at all in the public’s being able to recognize and identify with many of the emotions which are brought forth in this funny but also bittersweet saga.
Aditi Verma (Vasundhara Das) has been betrothed to a man she’s never seen, Houston businessman Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas), but unknown to her family, she’s actually in love and having an affair with the married star of a TV talk show. Her father (Naseeruddin Shah) is going into great debt over the wedding, arguing much of the time with money-grubbing wedding coordinator P. K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz) who, as fate would have it, meets the Verman’s maid Alice (Tillotama Shome) and is quickly smitten. Meanwhile, as family gathers for the event, a guilty secret shared by the Vermans’ nieces Ria (Shefali Shetty) and Aliya (Kemaya Kidwai) and their uncle Tej (Rajat Kapoor) adds to the tenseness of the atmosphere.
Sabrina Dhawan’s screenplay deftly manages to juggle as many as a half dozen storylines throughout the film’s less than two hour-running time, but perhaps she’s inserted one or two too many since the story of the Verma’s couch potato young son who loves singing and dancing and cooking doesn’t get enough attention and with love in the air, the story of a potentially interesting third pair of young lovers gets lost amid the more central couples in the story. Nair directs it all without self-consciousness. Even the musical sequences are possibly Bollywood inspired but rise much more intrinsically from the tale itself. (A spontaneous dance at the reception on the eve of the wedding is the film’s most joyous sequence, topping even the celebrated climactic wedding party filmed during the downpour of the title.)
Though Aditi’s wedding is the film’s central focus, Naseeruddin Shah’s unforgettable performance as the hassled and inevitably heartbroken father claims the movie’s acting honors. He plays his comic encounters with the excessively animated Vijay Raaz without overacting filled as his character is with exasperation and desperation. Shefali Shetty’s concerned Ria whose angst finally can no longer be contained also makes a great impression. Vasundhara Das and Parvin Dabas make a picture perfect bride and groom though his character isn’t given the emotional range in the finished film to convey his conflicted emotions. Tillotama Shome is a pert Alice and Kemaya Kidwai has great naturalness as the wounded child Aliya. Rajat Kapoor as the jovial but secretive uncle does an excellent job hiding his true colors under a veneer of civility.
The film is presented in its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is presented at 1080p using the AVC codec. Filmed in Super 16, the grain levels are consistent in the transfer, but focus variations cause some sharpness issues throughout as sharp, detailed, dimensional scenes alternate with shots which are soft or even out of focus. Colors are rich and deeply saturated, and the occasional noise with the brightest reds and blues which was present on the DVD version is handled much better on the Blu-ray. Black levels are fine but not outstanding. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is mostly well recorded though some of the heavily accented English gets a bit garbled at times, no fault of the transfer but rather some sound recording issues. Music is the primary component of the surround efforts for the movie and there is good body and depth to the sound with this lossless encode. There is a lack of other ambient sound in the surrounds, however, likely due to budgetary considerations.
The audio commentary by director Mira Nair gives a good accounting of how to movie was cast, how the script was written, and how preproduction flowed smoothly into the actual filming.
The Laughing Club of India is a 2000 documentary filmed very much in the style of Monsoon Wedding and dealing with the phenomenon of laughing clubs which have been a national and international pastime. It runs 35 minutes and is presented in 480i. The director’s introduction runs 4 ¼ minutes. This and all of the introductions to the short films are in 1080p.
Top-billed star Naseeruddin Shah and director Mira Nair talk agreeably in 2009 in New York about their experience of working together on the film. She also asks him about his career on the stage and his influences about going into acting. The 1080p featurette runs 21 ½ minutes.
Cinematographer Declan Quinn and production designer Stephanie Carroll reminisce in 2009 about the making of the movie in this 10 ½-minute feature in 1080p.
The film’s theatrical trailer which only hints at the film’s complexity and mix of comedy and drama is presented in 1080p and runs for 2 ¼ minutes.
Six additional short films are in a menu separate from the Monsoon Wedding menu on the same Blu-ray disc.
So Far From India is the story of Ashok Sheth who married but then came to America alone leaving his wife of ten days pregnant. An interesting though slightly unsatisfying look at two cultures, this runs 49 ¼ minutes in 1080p. The director’s introduction runs 6 ¾ minutes.
India Cabaret examines club dancer/strippers and contrasts them with the lives of married women whose husbands come to the strip clubs. The longest of the shorts, this runs 59 ¾ minutes in 1080p. The director’s introduction is 8 minutes long.
The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat is a compelling look at South Africa after the murder of Chris Hani seen through the frightened eyes of a white family leaving the country they love. It runs 11 ¼ minutes in 1080p. The introduction by the director runs 4 ½ minutes.
11’09”01-September 11 is the most poignant of the shorts, a 12-minute look at the events of 9/11 from a different viewpoint, the mother of a missing resident of Queens, Salman Hamdani. It’s presented in 1080p. The director’s introduction runs 3 ¼ minutes.
Migration takes a tragic story of HIV in India and makes it memorable in only 18 ¾ minutes. Filmed in 2.35:1 and presented in 1080p, this story could have made a very interesting feature film. The director’s introduction lasts 3 ¾ minutes.
How Can It Be will remind you a bit of the first minutes of Kramer Vs. Kramer as a wife leaves her family for her own reasons. It runs 9 ¼ minutes in 1080p. The director’s introduction runs 5 minutes.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
The enclosed 30-page booklet contains a cast and crew list, a lovely collection of color stills from the movie, a valentine to Mira Nair about her film and her work by author Pico Lyer, and a brief summary of the seven additional short films in the set.
4/5 (not an average)
Monsoon Wedding is a thoughtful Indian film for those with an aversion to Bollywood-style spectacles. The Criterion Blu-ray release includes a generous sampling of the director’s short works and with an excellent picture and solid sound, this disc comes definitely recommended.